On July 23, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it was issuing nearly $1 million in fines for a poultry processing facility in Gainesville, GA. The citations come after an investigation of the company which was launched when 6 workers were killed in a nitrogen leak at the poultry plant on January 28, 2021.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, shortly after the workers’ shift began on that fateful day in January, the plant’s freezer malfunctioned, releasing colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen, which displaced the oxygen in the room.
Three maintenance workers entered the freezer room and were overcome by the lack of oxygen immediately. Later, other workers came into the room and were also impacted by the nitrogen leak. According to authorities, the 3 maintenance workers and 2 other employees died immediately, while 1 passed away on the way to the hospital.
None of these workers were trained on the deadly effects of nitrogen exposure. In addition to these fatalities, there were also a dozen other injured workers who were hospitalized.
In the statement from OSHA, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said that these deaths were “entirely avoidable.”
After OSHA investigated the incident, they found that Foundation Food Group, Inc. failed to implement adequate safety procedures, which might have prevented the nitrogen leak. They also did not appropriately equip workers with any knowledge of nitrogen leaks or proper equipment, which might have helped them survive the leak.
OSHA ultimately cited Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packer Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd., and FS Group Inc. as responsible for the incidents at the Gainesville facility, which led to the 6 worker deaths. Altogether, the 56 violation citations totaled $998,637 in fines.
In particular, Foundation Food Group, Inc. faces 26 violations, amounting to $595,474 in fines. Some include:
- Exposing workers to thermal injuries and suffocation hazards from the release of liquid nitrogen
- Failing to develop, document, and use lockout procedures
- Not informing employees that liquid nitrogen was used in the freezer
- Failing to perform a hazard assessment for exposure to liquid nitrogen
- Not making sure exit paths were free from obstruction
- Lack of illuminated exit signs or adequate lighting for exit routes
Messer LLC faces 6 serious violations and $74,118 in fines. As the company that delivered the industrial gas and installed the refrigeration system, they were fined for exposing workers to the release of nitrogen, failing to develop, document, and use lockout procedures, and not ensuring that the lockout procedures were shared between the employer and contractors.
Packer Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd. provided cleaning and sanitation for the facility. They were cited for 17 serious and 2 repeat violations in failing to train workers on the hazards of liquid nitrogen and anhydrous ammonia, in addition to many of the similar citations from the companies above. They face $286,720 in fines.
Lastly, OSHA cited FS Group Inc, the company that manufactures equipment and provides mechanical services for failing to train workers on the physical and health hazards of liquid nitrogen, totaling a $42,325 fine.
Ultimately, OSHA deemed that these deaths and injuries were preventable. An unsafe work environment, partnered with the fact that the employers failed to provide workers proper safety training and warnings, led to this horrific incident.
While these fines send a strong and necessary message to other Georgia employers to invest in their workers’ safety, sadly they don’t go to the individuals affected in this incident or their loved one.
Death benefits for surviving family members
The tragedy of losing a loved one in a tragic work incident such as what happened in Gainesville is incomprehensible. While no amount of compensation can replace this loss, monetary payments can help grieving families cover the real and difficult costs that result from such calamity.
In most cases, anyone who is considered a “dependent” is eligible to receive death benefits in Georgia after their family member has passed away from an incident at work. In the state of Georgia, there are 2 types of dependents: primary and secondary.
If there is only 1 primary dependent (such as a surviving spouse), that person receives full compensation. If there is more than 1 dependent, then the payment is split. But if the primary beneficiary is a spouse and the dependents are children, then the compensation is usually paid entirely to the spouse for the benefit of the whole family.
To obtain compensation for a fatal work accident, the dependents must contact the employer, who will then notify their workers’ compensation insurance carrier to begin the benefits process. Claims must be filed within 1 year of the fatality.
Need help understanding what benefits you are entitled to after a work accident?
Our experienced lawyers can help ensure that the paperwork is processed efficiently and answer any questions you may have during this difficult time.